The other day I found the tail and one leg of a gray squirrel in my backyard in Black Rock. What could have done this ? ! I put the word out in my neighborhood thinking it was most likely done by a coyote which have been seen once and awhile. Black Rockers responded to tell me of hearing and seeing fishers in their yards. I do think that a fisher was most likely the culprit.
These creatures are sometimes referred to as “fisher cats” even though they seldom eat fish, and are not cats – they are actually weasels. Fishers are one of the largest members of the Mustelid family, which includes species like the mink, weasel, otter and skunk. The name may have been derived from “fitch,” the European polecat, a species familiar to early settlers who may have mistaken the fisher for the polecat.
The fisher has a long, slender body, short legs, a wedge-shaped snout and an elongated, bushy tail The fur is dark brown to black. Their bodies measure 20 – 30 inches with an additional 13 – 17 inches of tail and weigh from 4- 14 pounds. Males are larger than the females. The fishers are known for their thick shiny fur coats, which provide good insulation against the cold and inclement weather.
Habits and Habitat
Fishers are generalist predators. They will feed on any animal they can catch favoring rabbits, squirrels, carrion, mice, shrews, voles, wild birds, chipmunks, chickens, turkeys, porcupines, frogs, cats and will eat carrion and garbage. They are also known to supplement their meat diet with insects, nuts, berries, and mushrooms and ferns.
A fisher is one of the few predators with porcupine on its menu. In some forests, fishers have been reintroduced to try to control porcupine populations. A fisher repeatedly attacks the porcupine’s face until it is worn out. Then the fisher flips the porcupine over and attacks the throat or belly where there are no quills.
Fishers by nature do not like open spaces and prefer tree cover or coniferous forests to dwell in. heavily wooded places like New England make an ideal habitat for Fisher cats. They also sometimes live near riparian riverside habitats.
Fishers are mainly nocturnal although they are also active during daytime, mostly during the time just before sunset and just before sunrise when they mainly searches for food. They are good swimmers and climbers, and may hang out in trees cavities, stumps, rock crevices, or ground burrows. In the winter, they make tunnels in the snow. Fishers also use tree cavities as dens as well as ground cavities, such as rock crevices, in winter.
They do not stalk or chase prey but rely on surprising their quarry. Fishers are solitary and secretive. They walk on the soles of their feet and can climb and swim very well. The fisher paws have large surfaces to help run on snow without sinking. If disturbed, fishers arch their back like a cat and hiss, growl, snarl or spit.
Their cry is similar to that of a high pitched one of a child’s and can sound very eerie in the night. Here is an excellent link with audio of the famous fisher screech
Fishers have been pretty rare in Connecticut until recently. Their presence dwindled in the early 20th century as they were hunted for their fur, as well as lost their habitat due to development. Nowadays due to reforestation and other factors they are making a come back.
The CT DEP did help with their reintroduction in western CT back in 1988. As a result of that project, a self-sustaining population is now established in western Connecticut. Fishers are now also found throughout eastern Connecticut as a result of natural range expansion, and have made inroads into suburban backyards and towns. Today, experts believe there are a few thousand fishers in Connecticut, and they have spread to virtually every corner of this state.
Populations are now high enough that in 2005, Connecticut instituted its first modern day regulated trapping season for fishers. Most northern states have regulated fisher trapping seasons. Fisher fur is valuable, especially the smoother, more silky pelts of the females. Today, a single fisher pelt may bring more than $80. There are so many around that trappers are lobbying to increase Connecticut’s current bag limit for fishers. At the moment, state regulations restrict the legal trapping of fishers to November, and a licensed trapper can take only two per season.
Just Be Careful
If you have a small dog or an outdoor cat – just be careful. The CT DEP has been getting a number of complaints about fishers suspected of killing outdoor cats and other domestic animals. It is important to recognize that fishers are just trying to find food and protect themselves. To protect your own pets and domestic fowl, restrict access to them, and to garbage and pet foods. Keep your cat indoors.
The inclusion of domestic animals on the fisher’s menu is largely responsible for the fisher getting a nasty reputation and the angry sentiments of a lot of pet owners. The fisher is getting a bad rap.
Adding to the fisher’s dark reputation are a couple of recent reports of fishers attacking humans. Both occurred in daylight, leading to concerns the animals had rabies, and both victims got off with scratches and a few bite marks.
But the fishers help keep the balance of nature by taking out the sick and the weak among the prey animals. That’s not a concept many pet owners can relate to, particularly if it’s their cat or puppy that makes the mistake of running into a hungry fisher.
Cat owners need to be aware of the risk they’re taking when they allow their pets to roam free outdoors. If you let your cat outside, then the possibility that it might become dinner for a roaming predator. A 1997 survey indicated that only 35 percent of cats in this country are kept indoors.
How exciting that wild animals such as fishers, turkeys, coyotes and red foxes are returning to our state and our suburbs. In spite of the human-animal conflicts that arise, we can overcome these difficulties by learning to share our habitat with the original inhabitants. For me, the wonder of seeing a fisher or fox in my backyard far outweighs any limitations, safeguards or inconvenience and brings a beautiful part of nature right into my backyard.
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